A CONTRACT extension for Garry Monk is relatively new ground for Leeds United. They say Massimo Cellino likes eating coaches but in 11 years just Simon Grayson and Kevin Blackwell have worked their way to enhanced deals. Almost every other manager went the way of most things.
There is no end of irony in the fact that Dennis Wise, an inflammatory choice of manager at Elland Road, was the last to leave of his own accord, jumping at a time when the club had no intention of pushing him. More recently, and with Cellino’s finger on the button, Uwe Rosler was appointed while Neil Redfearn technically held the job. Last May, Steve Evans had to go to Stuart Hayton, Leeds’ secretary, and ask him to convince Cellino to stop dangling Evans and sack him. By then Cellino was no longer answering Evans’ calls.
The calls have usually been Leeds’ to make and in the case of virtually every post-relegation coach, they bore bad news. The club are unaccustomed to a scenario where their manager is ticking many boxes, his contract is winding down and replacing him at the end of the season is not the preferred process. For all that Monk’s management has calmed the waters at Elland Road, he has taken Leeds and Cellino in particular out of their comfort zone. The boot is on the other foot. Or to be precise, Monk is wearing both of them.
His deal runs to the end of the season which, without constituting an overwhelming problem, is clearly inadequate for a head coach with his record. You can see why Arsenal are dithering over Arsene Wenger with pitchforks passing amongst the crowd at the Emirates but Monk is due better terms. On the basis that his salary is decent by Championship standards, he at least deserves longer terms. Common sense says so.
Leeds plan to improve it and the club’s new co-owner, Andrea Radrizzani, was not playing to the crowd when he promised that he and Cellino would sit down with Monk and attempt to keep him. Leeds are understood to have included the option of a year’s extension in his existing deal but they could not conceivably activate it without Monk’s consent. Clubs can control those clauses with players as Hull City did with Robert Snodgrass in January, maximising his value before selling him to West Ham United, but there is no merit in retaining a reluctant boss. Monk took the job last summer because he wanted it. He has thrived in it because he wanted it. In a different frame of mind it would not take long for him and his squad to go backwards.
They have gone forward so quickly this season in no small part because of the consistency of Monk’s management. There are multiple strands to the team’s improvement. A clear and defined formation has helped and his commitment to it spawned a squad who know their roles, appreciate their limits and have high enough levels of fitness to make it work. Several players, some of whom might have classed themselves as a little lost or directionless, are experiencing the best season of their careers. Chris Wood has never finished as prolifically as this. Pontus Jansson said he was ready to give the game up before Leeds gave him a way out of Torino. Kyle Bartley has been so reliable that Swansea City might genuinely want him back.
Monk was brave enough to black-ball others at the start – Luke Murphy, Ross Turnbull, Toumani Diagouraga and Sol Bamba – and refused to backtrack on those decisions even when Leeds ran short of midfielders in December.
In the absence of ambiguity, there is precious little sulking on the fringes of his squad. Monk has been able to count on influential performances from players who, in a personal sense, ought to have been unhappy with the amount of football they were seeing. Alex Mowatt at Cambridge United was a good example and Marco Silvestri in various cup games another. Team spirit is a flimsy concept – “people bang on about it when you win and assume it’s a problem when you don’t,” as a former player once said to me – but Monk’s squad are a cohesive bunch who socialise far more than previous squads did. Eunan O’Kane touched on that last week, saying: “The togetherness is largely down to (Monk) and largely why we’re achieving what we are.”
The cynic in you says that Leeds gave Monk a short deal last summer because their first thought was about the cost of paying him off. Monk needed a way back into football and big jobs were drying up.
Nine months on, it is Monk who needs to cover his back; to dictate his terms and establish the size of his budget in whichever division Leeds play next season. Perhaps to seek assurances that another year in the Championship will not require him to turn water into wine on a small net spend or without certain key players staying put.
The fear of a Premier League club teasing him away from Elland Road would be more severe if Premier League clubs ever looked at second-tier managers. As for Rangers, with whom Monk has been linked, there are few things worse than being 33 points adrift in a one-horse race so bitter but certain Championship owners would grease his palm readily and that is where the risk lies.
Monk strikes you as a reasonable sort. He strikes you as the sort who would rather embed himself in a club than jump around on the basis of pay-cheques. He strikes you as the sort who would prefer not to waste a very productive year’s work. All in all, it should not be difficult for Leeds to give him what he wants.